A service provider’s (SP) operational strategy needs to prioritize network improvement by differentiating their offerings in critical areas of service delivery. Validating key areas such as latency, cloud gaming experience, OTT video, and the impact of spectrum decisions are quickly rising in prominence for 5G benchmarking. From a marketing perspective, the ability to differentiate these offerings gives the SP a competitive edge – a compelling reason for prospective customers to choose their service over others, and to reassure existing customers that their quality of experience (QoE) is superior. To do so, SPs must answer these key questions:
Where must I improve to be competitive?
Where can I get unbiased evidence of my differentiators for marketing purposes?
Are low latency applications needed to monetize 5G delivering the necessary QoE to ensure adoption?
How is my spectrum strategy playing out relative to competitor spectrum strategy?
Simply put, the operator with the best user experience that gains and retains subscribers wins. To make these claims, SPs must know that their representations are real and can be verified. It begs the question: How do SPs know if their network is better than their competitors?
The answer is widely acknowledged: SPs need unbiased and industry-recognized evidence to validate their claims. Substantiating claims of a mobile network’s performance is rooted in measuring and vetting the user experience (UE) against the competition.
How do SPs achieve benchmarking with qualified authority?
The first step is to recognize that traditional methods of benchmarking are not always suitable for 5G. A few points to consider: 4G offers one fundamental service class, while 5G offers speeds roughly 10x faster with ultra-low latency (ULL). Higher speeds enabled by mmWave technology come with huge coverage challenges, as those frequencies do not have the reach or ability to penetrate obstacles as well as lower frequencies do. 5G enables new applications and use cases that greatly expand benchmarking requirements including augmented reality, event venue demands in stadiums or concert halls, remote surgery, connected autonomous vehicles, and much more. New enterprise deployments and their varied use case requirements also add to the mix. The advent of mobile edge computing (MEC) introduces the critical enabler for low latency use cases and must be part of any benchmarking strategy. As with any generational change, inter-technology handoff will impact the user experience for the foreseeable future.
SPs should demand a next-gen approach to live testing and rely on a neutral test partner. The benchmarking process must validate the network’s performance across a wide range of testing criteria and produce outputs based on a comprehensive methodology incorporating KPIs defined by the SP and focused on the mobile user experience in specific locations. Key solution components of this process include state-of-the-art test equipment, vehicles and scheduling systems, stationary/walk testing, drive testing, and expert testing engineers who cover a range of geographic locations. The testing methodology must account for select devices under test, involve complete operator networks, and provide centralized data collection, analytics, and outputs.
SPs should demand a next-gen approach to live testing and a vendor-neutral test partner is needed. The benchmarking process must validate the network’s performance across a wide range of testing criteria and produce outputs based on a comprehensive methodology incorporating KPIs defined by the SP and focused on the mobile user experience in specific locations.
This all boils down to measuring what matters for today’s (and tomorrow’s) users in a scientific and repeatable way to provide actionable insights from the device and network sides, and with a stable and dependable partner that gives you more than just data.
To achieve this, the choice of neutral test partner is key. It is ideal to work with a pioneer in testing mobile QoE under real-world conditions, one who has recognized leadership in 5G validation, who employs extensive experience with new and existing mobile technologies from leading industry players. The ability to utilize proven methodologies and test plans, based on global cloud-based measurement systems, ensures success. The partner’s credibility is also based on the customer’s ability to rely on complete confidentiality of results and reports to substantiate marketing claims.
With the results, the provider can verify their claims of differentiation and understand where they need to improve to gain their competitive edge. The testing should identify where these areas of improvement are required. Also, factors such as high band mmWave networks, mobile edge computing (MEC), and the evolution to 5G Standalone (SA) must be considered in any benchmarking strategy.
Maintaining the competitive edge
In any high-demand user application requiring low latency, maintaining QoE is just as important as being able to validate a marketing claim at a particular point in time. As the constant flux of innovation with new cloud native network functions (CNFs), underlying network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVI), and mobile edge computing add to the complexity, and as new features are continuously deployed, ongoing measurement of internal technology that contributes to the user experience needs to be maintained. Application domains (video servers, voice servers, etc.), underlying mobile network performance (device, RAN, mobile core), underlying data center performance, and underlying transport (fronthaul, midhaul, and backhaul) must all be validated with continuous analysis and targeted actions.
With this perspective, some SPs see benchmarking as the gateway to establishing superior and reliable performance to substantiate their marketing claims. And for the longer term, they see the advantages of strengthening their service infrastructure through continuous mobile network optimization, fortified by continuous test and assurance of their offerings.
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